This is a sort of prolegomena to some posts I have been planning for a few weeks, but thought I would attempt to write out my state of mind and trace out the back drop of what I hope to write.
I have been thinking a good bit about American religiosity specifically American Christianity of late. I find that I am both a product of this relligiosity and I rarely feel at home in it. American Christianity is a constant puzzle to me and I find that I seem to stand in it and without it simultaneously. I think this is partially due to having been nurtured in the Christian faith in what was still in my childhood essentially an imigrant church. Though the Evangelical Covenant Church was attempting to shed its Swedish identity without loosing its spiritual heritage as I grew up in both in Chicago and then California the churches were still largely Ethnicaly Swedish though the Swedish language had ceased to be used in worship for decades by that time. In this environment, I picked up a subtle destinction between the faith of the Covenant Church and the faith of the general American context: either evangelical or liberal. All the while though noting the ways in wich certain evangelical attitudes were prevalant among certian individuals in the church. I was told both that the Covenant differed from American Christianity and that it was the same as American Evangelicalism. I prefered the destinction and found that American Evangelicalism was not necesarily as congenial to the faith I was being raised with. This in part admitedly had to do with my father and the faith he formed in me. His parents were German Missionaries to China. They were Free Lutheran missionaries, and my Grandfather pastored a German Free Church here in Chicago when they came to the states after WWII. In a sense from both sides of my family I recieved a foriegn understanding of the Christian faith. This not-American perspective was hightened when my family lived for two years in France. I had encountered Roman Catholicism before going to France, since my aunt maried a Roman Catholic and in the early years of my childhood they attened Roman Catholic parishes and we went to church with them when we visited for holidays. However, it was in France that I encountered the depth of the tradition and its beauty in the churches shrines and Cathedrals of France and Europe.
Even as I write this I find this ability to talk about American Christianity as destinct from the Protestant imigrant faith I was raised in odd and a little disturbing. Of course it depends on the nature of the difference and whether it entails a true difference of faith or simply a cultural nuance. After reading Martin E. Marty's Reighteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in American I am more convinced than before that this difference is due to a fundamental eror in self understanding that American Protestant Christianity has had from the beginning. It explains to myself why as I became more aware of both the history and heritage of the Covenant and the history of the Church that I found myself increasingly critical of American Evangelicalism and sought to trace the continuity of my faith through Lutheran and continental lines rather than American evangelical ones, and why I find Lutheran pietism as a truer identifier than "evangelical' or "mainline".
My experience has also lead me to the edge of Eastern Orthodoxy and my relationship to Eastern Orthodox Christianity is still something of a puzzle. Of late I have been realizing that the pietist faith I was raised in and my adult journey of faith have lead me to recognize that the fiath I have been raised in is the faith of Orthodoxy, it is like the recognition I had of the Cathedrals and shrines in Europe. I also, had this recognition when I read St. Ireneaus of Lyon, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and the Matyrdom of Polycarp. The language often differed but I felt a unity of faith. This expreince has created and continues to create a tension in myself, because not all in my tradition nor do most of those who raised me in the faith have this same sense of recognition. Yet, I know that how I was formed in the faith has lead me to where I am: critical of American Evangelicalism, seeking a truely catholic and ecumenical fulness of the faith and very near to Orthodoxy, all the while remaining Protestant.
More on all of this to come.